Monthly Archives: August 2014


Scandi-connections enhance my world.

Winter, 1981. It was a real winter in this other hemisphere, but still one on the cusp of spring, when an euro-train took me to Copenhagen. I remember only a tad of that time, but I recall being very surprised at just how tiny the Little Mermaid actually is. I know there was a journey to a gallery devoted to Picasso and I recall the breakfasts at my hotel – the best of that European odyssey. I remember I had the first taste of sunshine in the Danish capital for many a week and dispensed myself of layers – big mistake in those far northern latitudes. The sunshine was short-lived and I was soon regretting my climatic stupidity. But that is all I can remember of my only venture into Scandinavia.

One and a half decades later I reached out for a salve to a mixed up life and found Merete. She became the first of a collection of pen-friends. She remains in my life to this day. Before my lovely Leigh, she and her letter-writing colleagues kept me going trough troubling times. Once I found my beautiful lady closer to home most of my correspondents dropped off – but not Merete. Eventually she too found a partner for life – but even then did not dispense with me.

Then, at the turn of the millennium, our island and Merete’s homeland became interwoven when a Tassie girl found a Danish prince. On a day perhaps not too distant from this one, a Hobart beauty will become Queen of the Danes, Queen of my Merete. She will charm the world anew.

Around the same time as Danish royalty was meeting a Taroona lass, there came a literary invasion to rival that of Harry Potter. ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ intrigued her way into our lives, a precursor to the world’s love affair with ‘Scandi-noir’. Much followed in the acclaimed trilogy’s wake as the books morphed into movies and the Scandinavians started to punch well above their weight in popular culture. On our screens, big and small, as well as in print, those countries just south of the Arctic Circle are giving the world something it cannot get enough of. They say imitation is the highest compliment, but when the rest of us try to emulate their unique product – well, we simply fall well short. We cannot replicate that distinct ‘feel’.Whereas ‘Harry’ largely passed me by, all this snowy, frigid fare has had me hooked too. Out of all its offerings my personal favourites have been ‘Borgen’, ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Lilyhammer’. Can we link those dastardly pillaging and raping ‘The Vikings’ in with all this ‘Scandiness’ too? These lands of ‘the long winter night’ are on to a good thing and long may we be in their thrall as they continue to mesmerise us with it.

So when Jessi Adler Olsen’s ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’ reared up at my local art house, I trundled off for another dose. The dourness of the lead actor is this film’s hallmark. Wallander’s life history has nothing on this guy. He’s been shot by love and shot by bullet. He manages a whole movie without an upward twitch of the lips – well, maybe perhaps just the merest of hints before the end credits rolled.


In this there was a touch of ‘The Bridge’ and its glorious pairing of two police sleuths when Ol’ Sad Sack is joined in cold case investigations by Assad, a Muslim (Fares Fares) – one who initially dismally fails to lighten Carl Mørck’s (Nickolaj Lie Kaas) burden, despite his best efforts. I am hoping this film will be the commencement of a franchise – I want to see much more of that miserable bugger Mørck up there on the silver screen.


Pretty soon the unlikely duo, operating more by hunch than evidence, are in a race against time to save the bacon of a feisty dame (Sonia Richter) who’s endures years of incarceration in, of all diabolical prisons, a pressure chamber. The cinematic audience goes along with them on a masterful ride of red herrings and derring do. Gradually the iciness from Mørck towards Assad thaws somewhat as the action component ups the ante. Substitute the frozen urban landscapes for the bayou of ‘True Detective’ and you get the feel of this fine thriller. Its great stuff – but then one now expects this from the these nations fringing the North Sea and Baltic. It is as ‘…superbly gripping…’ as its pre-publicity blurbs laud so, if subtitles do not faze you, ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’ beats most Hollywood offerings of the same ilk hands down.


Official trailer for the ‘Keeper of Lost Causes’ =

An Angel At My Molars

She was not pleased – I could tell. She was not pleased at all with my flossing. I had patently let her down – my technique, despite her best efforts to coach me, was less than satisfactory. Did she chide me? No, she is far too gracious for that. To do so would be far too against her nature – my angel of the molars. She is gentle, she is calming – she is simply the best I’ve ever had. Still, despite her many virtues, a trip to her rooms still gives me sweaty palms and an unsettled tum. I think, even though I’ve nothing to fear in the least, it is a hangover from my tender years when dentistry was associated with steam-punk drilling devices and pain. Practitioners back then, all male, seemed curt, unfeeling and their ability to produce excruciating aches, when supposedly having completed their best efforts to get my teeth in some sort of order, was the stuff of childhood nightmares. Yes, I know. I was and am a wimp. It seems to me that male dentists expect you to be all hairy chested about what happens in their chair and patient discomfort goes with the territory. This, though, is not the territory of my paragon of dental tenderness. Never, in her competent care, have I felt more than the slightest twinge – and even that causes me to flinch like a baby. She soothes away inter-molar detritus with aplomb and probes with dexterity. I don’t think I’ll ever lose my nervousness beforehand, nor the relief when another pain free session under her auspices is over. My bicuspids and their colleagues have lucked in to have this marvellous woman in charge of their fortunes.

Boy with Toothbrush and Tooth Cartoon

In the years before my move to Hobart my dental care had fallen by the wayside. Once upon a time I had another angel in a white coat – a blonde, cool, almost austere Slav who was constantly congratulating herself on her heroic deeds in saving some of my deplorable excuses for teeth. But she, too, was gentle and my experiences with her were always positive. But then her practice burnt down and that was that. My dental hygiene was cast out into the wilderness again. It took the urging of my beloved to get me back into the chair. She had been extolling the virtues of her amazing Dr Gupta for some time to build up my confidence – and after the first visit I knew – I was hers for life.

Boy with Toothbrush and Tooth Cartoon

I am not solo in recounting my dental experiences in recent times. Age columnists Anson Cameron and Benjamin Law have done similar – recalling with incisiveness expeditions into the realm of the remediation of their incisors. The former’s description of his humiliation, when his dentist placed what she found in his oral orifice on a magnified screen above his head, is priceless. My angel has never been as heartless as Cameron’s Dahlia Fink, but this dentist’s skills seemed to have been up to the task of remedying the mess he stared agape at. But when it comes to price, it would seem my goddess wins hands down – very reasonable for what she has to put up with in me. Mr Law, meanwhile, regales us with his school time’s excursions to Fran, who never failed him in her unrelenting search for cavities to painfully plug. He tells of a Hong Kong mother addicted to sweets and what is amiss from ‘Downton Abbey’ from a dental point of view – and gives us all a few hints about our techniques with dental husbandry as well. As competent as Fran and Dahlia were with their ministrations, I wouldn’t change my dental angel for the world. I at last feel virtuous when it comes to my enamelled tombstones as I am now a regular attendee at Hopkins Street Dental, instead of avoiding its ilk at all costs. I know my saviour probably regards me as the biggest wuss of all time – and a sook too – but, such is her way, she would never countenance a hint of that as she does the rounds of my chompers. Whether or not I will ever lose that jelly-legged feeling when it comes to dentistry I do not know – at my age there seems little chance, but we’ll see. For now I am not plagued with fear and I am thankful for that. So thank you, dental angel, for your care of this old fellow and his sensibilities – you are worth your weight in gold filling.

Boy with Toothbrush and Tooth CartoonMr Cameron’s dental recollections =

Mr Law’s dental recollections =–take-care-of-your-teeth-20140815-104dge.html



Stillness. I love the stillness, the quietude that enhances my life these days. I’ve found it by the river under Dromedary; I’ve found it with two canines overlooking Anderson Bay. It is something I used to crave during my teaching days.

Music has shaped my world for so long now and once my life was full of it. These days not so much. Back in the day, if a choice occurred between stillness and my latest CD, the latter won out – so there was little place for the former. In my working life there wasn’t time for both of them – but now there is.

And in John May’s life stillness dominates. My stillness, in no way, compares with his. His world is all quiet, hushed, anally still, buttoned-up, beige, constricted. He’s made it small and narrow. It is devoid of colour – and the people he has most affinity with are even stiller than he. They’re so still that, in fact, they’ve ceased to exist. May is the council’s cleaner-uperer of unclaimed, unloved decreased persons. He does right by them – attempting to track down any remaining relatives – if he’s successful he largely finds them an unfeeling, unsympathetic lot. They rarely want to get involved in any funeral arrangements, leaving it up to John May. And he does right by his individual corpses, giving them something tailored to what he has gleaned about them. He takes pride in his work. It is his life. He keeps a scrapbook of his clients – all those stories, but in the end there was no love, except what John May had to give. He has a music collection devoted to including just the right song for each for sending off. He does his best.


Of course he is defeated by his own humanity, The bean-counters decide it all costs too much – in time and money. Efficiency is afoot and John May is soon to be out of a job. He is deigned one last case as a send-off. In our world of streamlining and consolidation there is no room for someone tied to the past, to the ways it has always been done. There’s no room for a man such as John May.

Enter his last still, Billy Stoke. John May is going to take his time fleshing out the bones of this one’s life tale, this last person entrusted to his care for the last rites. John May embarks on a journey tracking down his family members in person, rather than on the blower. John now begins his revolt. He encounters Billy’s people – people that will change John May’s life, albeit briefly. As they bring colour to his world, so the screen gradually becomes infused with brighter hues as John May unbuttons himself and leaves himself open to possibilities. Gone are his dowdy suit and tie. Leading the colour charge is Kelly Stoke – a luminous Joanne Froggatt from ‘Downton Abbey’ fame. A tentative bond between the two develops – there is hope of a less still existence for John May.


Be prepared – the end of the movie is devastating, but joyous at the same time. I had difficulty coping with what happened, but the guy a few seats a way was an absolute mess because of it. Bring tissues. And my goodness – the ghosts. The ghosts were magnificent.

Marsan, in a role perfectly fitted to his features, is so still – it’s almost heartbreaking. He is sublime in this. His is a face we all know – those many of us who watch quality British product – but with this movie we’ll forever be able to put his name to that face. He’s done quality work in the past – ‘Ray Donovan’, ‘Happy Go Lucky’ and ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ – but this, undoubtedly, will be his signature role.

‘Still Life’ is a movie that will linger in the consciousness. It is an exquisite piece, worthy of its long list of gongs already garnered. It deserves even the highest. Its sensitivity, attention to the detail of human nuance are a credit to director, Umberto Pasolini – best known, prior to this, for the glorious ‘The Full Monty’. For capturing the stillness of one man’s life, hopefully this will now be thought of as well when his name is mentioned. It is a masterpiece. It received a ten minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. I loved it to bits. Simply wonderful.

Still Life Official Site =




Class Warfare

I only found two years of it tough going – my first and last – and with the latter, it was really just that final term. For the first time since 1974 I was struggling, having some difficulties managing my classes. The kids were in danger of winning. In footy parlance – I knew I couldn’t front up for another season of that so I put myself out to pasture. Luckily, I was past sixty. Sure there was, over my duration in education, cohorts of students I didn’t look forward to – as well as a few individuals I couldn’t connect with and whom therefore also gave me bother – but I was always on top, doing my job reasonably well and actually teaching my charges something. Towards the end I did struggle with other aspects – the damage NAPLAN was doing and the unreasonableness of it, the convoluted reporting process, winters, the imposed inability to be innovative with curriculum – and then there was that close call on Boat Harbour Beach, regarding student safety, that gave me the heebie jeebies. But always, right up till the death, I was king of the classroom – and loved being thus.

So my experience was a far cry from what I read in the Trent Dalton article, ‘Class Warfare’ in ‘The Weekend Australian Magazine’ (July 18-20, 2014). What a dire, sobering picture that paints. The abuse of the teachers interviewed was so alien to my overall experience in the gig. It seems now my former fellow professionals rank alongside police and prison officers as our country’s top mental stress claimants. So many are afflicted by ‘…smear campaigns and panic attacks and online trolling and knife threats and teachers locked in storerooms and false accusations and depression and suicidal tendencies…’ Would that have been me too had I battled on?

Like me, Jack (Clive Owen) and Dina (Juliette Binoche) were the king/queens of their respective classes. Their charges were ‘normal’ – not perfect, but non-threatening and at the start, sort of engaged in what was going on. In this school the teachers’ voices were dominant. No, the problems the pair were having, like mine towards retirement, weren’t student based. They were struggling with their own demons – for Jack, once a prominent wordsmith, it was the grog and writers’ block. Now he is reduced to exposing students to the great canons of literature. Newbie, dour Dina, with a reputation of iciness preceding her, is suffering from a creeping debilitating disease making it increasingly difficult for her to paint, thus her need to earn extra cash passing on her skills to the younger brigade. Neither have the fire that burns any more to be at the top of their pedagogical game. Jack’s position is becoming particularly tenuous. As a result of somewhat one-sided banter – in Jack’s favour – between the two, along comes and inane idea toenthuse the student body with a contest between the word and the image, thus the film’s title – ‘Words and Pictures’. What starts as a tease becomes a school wide obsession, motivating the kids to produce output of heroic proportions – as if!


Yep the narrative is pretty naff. Fred Schepsi has made many a better movie than this. That being said, in the characters of Jack and Dina, there is a sort of dynamic going on that raises it above the admittedly pretty low bar of typical Hollywood rom-coms. You know, ditzy blonde eventually wins the heart of buff-bodied, but wayward hearted, male lead. These two veterans do more than simply go through those sort of motions. As one would perhaps expect, this is more mature playing to an older demographic – and more considered in nuance. If only it had a better framework for the actors to work with

In a way this movie is a throwback to the screwball comedies of tinsel town’s golden era – the outcome is a given, but there’s much fun getting there with all the antics of the leading participants before the final kiss and happy ever-afters as the credits roll. Those were purer times and the Aussie director’s offering is redolent of that period.

This is not a film that will resonate down through life’s journey, but watching it, one day after the aforementioned article appeared, it was a pleasant enough salve to the ugly view of the guiding profession that piece of reportage portrayed. Afterwards, for an instant of time, I wanted to be king of the classroom again, like Jack and Nina. Then sanity clicked in.


Movie website =

Two Wolves – Tristan Bancks

I could never quite see the attraction of those two enduring Aussie soaps, ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Home and Away’, although if you have the climate the Poms have to put up with I can see a reason for their adoration of them – a daily dose of Oz sunshiney-ness (yes, I know – not the right spelling. I just prefer the word that way) would bring light and colour to their dun world. It is, though, undoubtedly true that the twin mainstays of our early evening programming have provided an excellent breeding ground in the basics of acting for many who have gone on to wider fame nationally – even internationally – in the movies and music. Some have become household names – you know them! I don’t have to list! – as well as fodder for the celebrity rags.

One who has taken a road less travelled for ex-soapies is Tristan Bancks. He is now starting to attract attention as a wordsmith for younger people. He has tried his hand, post his role as Tag O’Neale in HandA, at all manner of vocations, including directing and anchoring tele shows here and in the UK. I suspect it is as a writer that he’ll find his forte. He surely will on the basis of ‘Two Wolves’. This is his latest and perhaps his most polished of now a very worthy list of titles, including ‘My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up’, ‘Mac Slater Cool Hunter’, ‘Galactic Adventures First Kids in Space’ and the ‘Nit Boy’ series (about a kid with the worst case of nits in world history). Most of these are seemingly designed to tickle the juvenile funny bone, but the content of ‘Two Wolves’ is decidedly no laughing matter. It would have many a young fella, as well as perhaps a lass or two, on the edge of their seats. I wish it was around in my teaching days.

This habitué of Byron Bay is right on the money with this novel. It measures up to his goal of producing a ‘…fast paced work appealing to youngsters.’ – with something here to inspire as well. There is excitement and suspense on every second page as Ben Silver and feisty little sis Olive try to find a way out of the pickles they get themselves in. You see, Ben, just entering teenagerdom, has a father who is – let’s not mince words – an out and out dropkick. What I do like about this nasty pasty, as horrid as he is to his long suffering missus and kids, is that, despite his depicableness, nary an expletive exits his mouth, no matter how much he does his block. Brainless bogan that he is, he doesn’t need the f-bomb to get his point across loud and clear. This would have been a temptation for many more ‘cutting edge’ practitioners, but thankfully Bancks doesn’t succumb.

two wolves

The author has used, as a basis for his storyline, recent headlines about bank malfunctions, awarding surprised customers instant wealth. Most, of course, would do the right thing – despite the ‘big fours’ crusade to rip off its customers to the max – but a few souls have taken the money and run. Such a twit is Ben’s old man. With his family going bush in response and the cops hot on their trail, the young man, who has desires to be a law enforcer one day, has some decisions to make – does family or right come first. What happens is our ever resourceful hero tries to tread a fine path between the two – a path that becomes increasing fraught as the book proceeds apace. In all this Ben is mentored by Sam Gribley, with those who are au fait with children’s literature knowing all about his own battles on his side of the mountain. He’s a good lad to have in your corner.

This book would be the perfect offering to dish up to a class approximating the age of the main protagonist. Ideally, presenting it to a cohort of boys would achieve the best results. In the past I have found selecting class novels quite onerous as it is far easer keeping girls under the thumb than boys, so usually gender bias is skewered the latter’s way for peace – and I was guilty of that myself . I was aware of doing so and tried to make up for it in other ways ensuring, for example, most of my short stories, read aloud, had girls at the helm. Olive, as resilient as she is, because of her age, doesn’t cut the mustard here.

The ending is a ripper as Bancks’ pulls out all stops to have our hero, after all he went through, finally have to face his nemesis in a final showdown. This novel possesses much that is life affirming and is simply a thoroughly good read. I enjoyed it immensely and I am sixty plus!


Tristan Bancks’ website =